What is Copyright?
Copyright is quite simply – the right to copy.
A broader definition which encompasses modern usage of Copyright could be that Copyright is an intellectual property right which seeks to protect the form of expression of ideas for a set period of time, but not the ideas themselves as such. The primary purpose of copyright law is to reward authors for their creation of original works, in other words, works where the author has expended independent effort to create the work. It is intended to prevent copying but not to provide a monopoly; it doesn’t matter if a similar or identical work already exists provided it has not been copied.
How did it all start? – The First Case in History
The first historic mention of Copyright, which set the universal precedent, can be traced to 6th Century Celtic Ireland. It is contained in a judgement of Diarmaid, High King of Ireland – the legal equivalent of today’s Supreme Court – in his finding against the Christian missionary Columba, founder of monastic rule, later canonised as Saint Columcille, who had become and incorrigible plagiarist. (The very same St.Columba that settled in Iona in Scotland).
Columcille had taken to visiting monasteries, borrowing books from their libraries and having his own monks copy them for him to distribute. At one stage, a certain Abbot, on hearing that Columcille was on his way to visit, buried his complete library in the Orchard, provoking the frustrated Columcille to put a curse on the monastery!
It should be remembered that it was the Christian missionaries who had brought the written word to Ireland. Writing was seen by the people of the time as a very powerful new technology, the equivalent of the computer now. Columcille’s activities could be seen in modern times as the equivalent of his distributing pirated copies of MS-DOS or Windows for free.
Finally, St Finian of Clonard objected to Columcille – a former pupil – plagiarizing his prized Latin Psalter, and pleaded for a definitive judgement on the problem from the High King.
Ireland was then, as now, an agricultural society and one of the native Brehon Laws of the time related to the ownership of animals found wandering. The very reasonable rule of law was that a calf, wherever it might be found, belonged to its mother, wherever that cow was kept.
The High King took that well-founded legal precedent and extended it in his famous judgement against Columcille thus:
“ As to every Cow its Calf, so to every Book its Copy”.
It must also be remembered that at the time, paper and printing had yet to be invented, so that books had to be laboriously hand-copied onto Vellum; it was common knowledge that vellum was manufactured from treated calf-hide, rendering the High King’s judgement doubly apposite in his choice of illustration.
That elegantly simple judgement is the earliest known record in history of the legal enunciation of the concept of Copyright and all Laws of Copyright ever since, throughout the world, differ only in detail from the Irish Original. That judgement gave us the inspiration for our logo which is the horns of a cow and calf in a celtic style.
It was not until the 1709 Statute of Anne, which passed into law on 10th April 1710 that copyright in books and other writings gained protection in the UK of an Act of Parliament. Prior to this, disputes over the rights to the publishing of books could be enforced by common law (as well as Brehon Law!)
The scholars of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire were the first to be concerned about being recognised as the authors of their works, but they did not have any economic rights. It was not until the invention of printing in the late fifteenth century that an official form of copyright protection was devised. Until then, the copying of a manuscript was a painstakingly slow process done mainly by monks. It was limited to copying religious works for orders and the royal courts of Europe. The majority of people were illiterate; only privileged members of society had access to these manuscripts.
LICENSING ACT 1662
The ability to print books easily and cheaply raised the issue of piracy. As the number of printers increased in England, the King exercised the royal prerogative to regulate the book trade and protect printers against piracy. This was the first of many decrees to control what was being printed. It was the Licensing Act of 1662, which established a register of licensed books, along with the requirement to deposit a copy of the book to be licensed. Deposit was administered by the Stationers’ Company who were given powers to seize books suspected of containing matters hostile to the Church or Government. By 1681 the Licensing Act had been repealed and the Stationers’ Company had passed a by-law that established rights of ownership for books registered to a number of its members so as to continue regulating the printing trade themselves.
STATUTE OF ANNE
The passing of the Statute of Anne, which was the first Copyright Act in the world to deal with this issue, introduced two new concepts – an author being the owner of copyright and the principle of a fixed term of protection for published works. The Act also brought about the depositing of nine copies of a book to certain libraries throughout the country. Subsequent Copyright Acts introduced copyright protection for other works. The term of protection was also extended.
INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT ACT 1886 AND THE BERNE CONVENTION
In 1875 a Royal Commission suggested that the present Acts should be improved and codified and strongly advised the Government to enter into a bilateral copyright agreement with America to provide reciprocal protection of British and US authors. After preparatory work had been carried out for the forthcoming Conference of Powers (resulting in the framing of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works), the International Copyright Act of 1886 was passed. The 1886 Act abolished the requirement to register foreign works and introduced an exclusive right to import or produce translations. British copyright law was extended to works produced in British possessions. The UK ratified the Berne Convention with effect from 5th December 1887.
COPYRIGHT ACT 1911
On the 1st July 1912 the Copyright Act 1911 came into force. It brought provisions on copyright into one Act for the first time by revising and repealing earlier Acts. Amendments included the introduction of a further extension of the term of protection, together with a new arrangement for calculating the term of copyright. Records, perforated rolls, sound recordings and works of architecture also gained protection. The Act also abolished the requirement to register copyright with Stationers Hall – a fundamental principle of the Berne Convention. The Act abolished common law copyright protection in unpublished works, apart from unpublished paintings drawings and photographs.
COPYRIGHT ACT 1956 – 1988 – 2001
The Copyright Act 1956 came into force on 1st June 1957. It took into account further amendments to the Berne Convention and the UK’s accession to the Universal Copyright Convention, administered by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Other amendments included new technological advances, for example, films and broadcasts, which were protected in their own right for the first time by copyright. The Performing Right Tribunal, the predecessor of the current Copyright Tribunal was also established.
Several amendments were made to the 1956 Act prior to the introduction of the current legislation Part 1 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which came into force on 1st August 1989. The 1988 Act provided another major overhaul and updating of copyright law but the process has continued since then with a number of amendments, many implementing various European Directives. It is an ongoing process.
It is our view that Copyright should be distinctive from any other form of Intellectual Property as there is no official Copyright Register and therefore difficult to do any form of prior art search.
The Protection of Copyright
We provide a unique Copyright Protection System to help protect the intellectual property of businesses and individuals. The Copyright Protection System is a tamper-proof envelope used to secure your original work. By signing, dating, sealing and securely storing the envelope and your work in a vault, you have hard evidence of ownership. It is the fastest and most secure way of protecting your copyright! Tell me more | Order your Envelope